Recapitulation Summary & Study Guide

This Study Guide consists of approximately 36 pages of chapter summaries, quotes, character analysis, themes, and more - everything you need to sharpen your knowledge of Recapitulation.
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Recapitulation Summary & Study Guide Description

Recapitulation Summary & Study Guide includes comprehensive information and analysis to help you understand the book. This study guide contains the following sections:

This detailed literature summary also contains Topics for Discussion and a Free Quiz on Recapitulation by Wallace Stegner.

Recapitulation is a novel by acclaimed writer, Wallace Stegner. This novel is about Bruce Mason, the protagonist of a previous novel by Stegner, who has returned as an older man to his hometown in order to arrange the burial of an aunt. Mason explores the home of his youth and begins recalling people and events that molded his young life, pushing him onto the road that led to where he is today. Much of Mason's past revolves around a young woman he nearly married, but he soon realizes the truth of his past centers more on the relationships he had with his parents than the heartbreak of this fateful love affair. Recapitulation is a novel of discovery and forgiveness that takes the reader on an emotional roller coaster that will leave them forever changed.

Bruce Mason arrives in Salt Lake City in the early evening and proceeds directly to the funeral home where his aunt is being prepared for her funeral the following morning. As Bruce walks up to the funeral home, he realizes it is the same house that once held an apartment belonging to a girl he knew. Bruce asks the funeral director to see the room where this apartment once was, finding himself filled with memories of the young woman and her roommate of a short time, who would become the only woman Bruce would ever ask to marry him. Bruce embraces these memories, even as he pushes the darker ones away, before returning to reality. As Bruce leaves the funeral home he receives a box that was found among his aunt's belongings and a phone number from a mysterious caller.

Bruce walks around the neighborhood for a short time, recalling buildings and places he once visited regularly as a young man. Back at the hotel, Bruce looks up the number of an old friend only to discover it is the same number the funeral director gave him. Bruce promises himself he will call the number later. Bruce goes to dinner and finds himself remembering moments from his childhood. One memory takes Bruce to the first home he shared with his family in Salt Lake City. In this home, Bruce's father would often entertain neighbors and local politician with illegal alcohol. This lifestyle forced a sort of closeness on his family that was filled with shame and fear, leaving Bruce filled with resentment toward his father. Another memory is one in which Bruce recalls a summer he worked as a busboy at a busy restaurant. Bruce was waiting in line for the train one night and felt a young woman's breast who was in line in front of him. It was one of Bruce's first experiences with the opposite sex and left him fearful for his life as the girl's boyfriend chased him through the crowd.

After dinner, Bruce drives through the streets of Salt Lake City, finding himself outside the home of his good friend, Joe Mulder. Bruce briefly thinks of knocking on the door, but it is late and he does not want to disturb Joe. Instead, Bruce walks through the neighborhood, thinking of the nights he often spent with the Mulder family, feeling empowered by being made an honorary member of a family that was so much more respectable than his own. Bruce returns to his car and drives around the area, visiting the tennis club which no longer exists, where he was forced to go one summer to please his mother and met Joe Mulder as a result. Bruce also goes to a house he once shared with his parents, the same house they lived in when Bruce's mother underwent surgery for breast cancer.

Back at his hotel, Bruce recalls attending a college prom there with Nola the spring he graduated from college. Bruce recalls that night as being a magical night that included a visit home to see his mother. Bruce always kept his social life separated from his family life, shamed by his father's chosen profession. However, Nola was so important to him that Bruce wanted to share her with his mother. Unfortunately, Bruce's father arrived home unexpectedly, injecting tension into the visit and changing the entire tone.

Bruce decides to open the box his aunt held for him for nearly forty-five years to see what the woman thought was so important. Inside Bruce finds a college athletic sweater, letters, and photographs. Bruce realizes this is a box Nola brought to him at Joe's after his father's funeral, returning to him all evidence of their relationship. This box brings to mind the day Bruce learned his professor had helped arranged a fellowship for him to attend law school, a decision that caused the rift between himself and Nola and eventually led to the destruction of their relationship. Bruce puts the box aside and attempts to get some sleep. However, Bruce's sleep is littered with memories, including a trip to a cabin that introduced Nola to Bailey, the man for whom she would eventually leave Bruce.

The following morning, Bruce makes a list of the things he must do that day, including ordering flowers for the funeral, attending the funeral, and calling Joe Mulder. A phone call adds some urgency to Bruce's plans as he learns that he is needed to attend a political meeting to aid diplomats from the Middle East. Bruce quickly goes about his business. When he finds a few spare minutes on his hands, Bruce goes on a driving tour of Salt Lake City. Bruce finds himself parked outside the building that stands where the building once was that his mother died in. Rather than think about his mother's final days, Bruce recalls a conversation with his father the last day they saw each other in which Bruce's father became overwhelmed with grief while talking about Bruce's mother. Bruce had not recalled that final day in such detail in a long time and could not trust his own impressions of that day.

Bruce goes to the cemetery where he visits his brother, mother, and father's graves. Bruce's father does not have a gravestone over his grave. During the funeral for his aunt, Bruce thinks about this place and its significance. Finally, when Bruce stops to order a gravestone for his aunt, Bruce arranges for a gravestone for his father's grave as well, more than forty years after his death. Bruce then returns to his hotel, deciding against calling Joe Mulder. Bruce decides it is best to leave his memories unaltered. Bruce mentally draws a rectangle around Young Bruce Mason and inks him out, deciding to go on with his life with the past securely in the past.

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